Working Memory: Exercising the Executive Function

By Tricia Wegman

Check out some new ways to incorporate executive functions and study skills into your lesson planning! This lesson aids students in improving their working memory.

Working memory is the skill that helps students retain what they have learned and recall that information when needed. Strengthening working memory is no small task, but hard work will yield incredible results. This lesson will give you ideas for how to incorporate working memory into every day activities.

Day 5 Lesson Objectives:

  • Executive Functions: Working Memory
  • Study skills: Recall and Retention


  • Paper or Individual White Boards
  • Markers
  • Foam or plastic numbers

Lesson Procedure:

5 EF Working Memory 1. Warm Up: on blank sheets of paper or individual white boards, have students create a picture based on directions you call out. Start simple and move to more complex. For example:

1. Draw a square.

2. Draw a triangle right above the square.

3. Draw a tree on the right side of the square.

4. Draw a sun in the left top corner of your page and two blue clouds.

5. Draw 3 green birds on the left of the square and 2 red butterflies on the right of the tree, etc.

*Important: Make sure student wait until you finish giving the whole command before they start.

2. Memory Charades: Either in partners or as a class, have students play memory charades. For example, imitate bouncing a ball, turning in a circle, and making a silly face. Now have a student come to the front and do the same actions from memory. Continue adding on actions until students are unable to remember.

3. Math: Games such as “Simon" that give students color patterns to remember and repeat are excellent. Another idea is to give students foam numbers of different colors. Create a sequence of different numbers (starting with 2 or 3) and then hide the sequence. Students must recreate from memory. Add more numbers as they are able. When you are looking for more of a challenge, ask student to memorize both the numbers and the colors.

4. Language Arts: Play the sparkle spelling game with weekly spelling words. Have students sit on their desks or stand up. Call out a word and choose a child to say the first letter of the word. The next child will call out the second letter in the word, and so on. Write the word on the board as students correctly spell it. If a student calls out an incorrect letter, he or she must sit down in his or her chair and wait for the game to begin again. At the end of each word, the next child must say “Sparkle" and must sit down (so there is a way to speed along the process). The last child left sitting on their desk or standing up is the winner.


As a rule of thumb, students should be able to remember a sequence of objects equal to their age. For example, a four year old should be able to remember a sequence of four. This evens out at about seven years old. Most adults can only remember a sequence of 7 or 8 objects. Using this as rough guide during the sequence retention activities can help you evaluate student ability. “Sparkle" is not only great for assessing students’ working memory, but a great way to practice spelling.

These ideas for working on the executive functions and study skills are just a small taste of all there is available to strengthen these key skills. Weekly practice in these areas will boost each child’s production and give them the building blocks they need.